IBM Model M Keyboard

2016-10-05

Model M Keyboard
Even in the data center where my office resides, where there are usually only the same 30 or so permanent residents residing in the secure environment, rarely does a month go by where I do not receive some mention about my keyboard. Most of these mentions are from vendors or occassional meeting goers who have been in IT for a while. Why would anyone comment on a keyboard? Sometimes the person catches a glimpse but more often then not they hear it. The wonderful buckling springs of my IBM Model M keyboard, by some accounts the finest keyboard ever made. I felt compelled to write this post early in the life of Iron_Geek as most of my posts will be composed with an IBM Model M keyboard.

I entered the IT world when it was far more common to find IBM equipment throughout your office or computer lab and you most often heard your coworkers clicking away on what sounded somewhat like a Selectric typewriter, but they were of course pounding away on a terminal or IBM PC, often times with some sort of buckling spring keyboard such as the IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M is a tank of a keyboard that weighs about 5 pounds, you could use it to defend yourself from a zombie if need be. I loved the feel of these keyboards and for many years you did not think about how awesome they were, these keyboards were standard issue. That is until all the commodity PCs started entering the office with there flashy plastic keyboards that made no sound and offered fancy media controls that most of us never used. If you started with a Model M keyboard you quickly found these spongey keyboards to be junk. This opinion is backed up by the fact that many Model M keyboards manufactured in the 1980s are still working today.

Each Model M has a sticker on the bottom with a Part Number, FRU number, manufacture date and some other odds and ends, including the Made in the USA part. These keyboards were manufactured when things were made to last. I have a few Model M Keyboards which I might wax poeticly about at a later date, but the one here in the office has a date of 03APR92. This keyboard was on my desk with a PC running OS/2 back in the 1990s and I kept the keyboard when that machine was retired. The keyboard traveled with me to different jobs since that time including the offices of EDS and HP where it was especially appreciated by many a coworker or visitor.

The Model M has a spring under each key and when you type the spring buckles providing feedback to your fingers and a click. I actually find the feedback and click a more pleasant typing experience. I find it interesting that one of the big innovations with touch screens is the haptic feedback the keyboards provide and to me there is little wonder that most folks prefer this type of feedback. This of course is all a matter of personal taste, I learned to type on an electric typewriter, something most folks have never used or never will use. So for me the Model M was a natural transition from the typewriter and I enjoy the feel of a mechanical keyboard.

You can find Model M Keyboards on Ebay and new ones are still manufactured in a tiny factory in Kentucky by Unicomp, a company founded by Neil Muyskens who was an electrical engineer at an IBM plant. I have one keyboard from Unicomp, it is a fine keyboard but it is not built as heavy as you will find in the Model Ms from IBM and Lexmark. If you really want to experience the Model M I recommend finding an original with part number 1391401 or if you are really lucky or do not mind paying the ridiculous price you can find a Model M SSK with part number 1391472. Even if you find a broken keyboard there are some folks out there that can repair the Model M and even modernize it a little. Maxx, the gentleman over at Phosphorglow.net is a true artist. I had some issues with my keyboard and he restored her to original working order and I had him add a classy copper underlay. If you noticed the underlay in the photo, that is not original.